Legal Services of the Hudson Valley will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2017 with two special initiatives – an anniversary gala, “Equal Access to Justice,” which will be held April 6 at the Ritz Carlton Westchester in White Plains, and a $1 million campaign entitled “Let Justice Grow” to benefit its efforts to prevent homelessness across the lower and mid-Hudson Valley.
The gala will be co-chaired by Al Donnellan, the group's board chair and managing partner at DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr, and David Boies, managing partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner.
“The Equal Access to Justice Gala, as well as the Let Justice Grow campaign, will directly impact the work of LSHV's staff attorneys and paralegals who handle, on average, more than 6,000 housing cases impacting more than 13,000 family members annually,” said Tom Gabriel, the group's chief development officer.
Founded as Westchester & Putnam Legal Services, today LSHV's attorneys assist poor, low-income, disabled and vulnerable people across the seven counties of the lower and mid-Hudson Valley.
The group advocates for those with nowhere else to turn in hearings, negotiations and court proceedings across a wide range of urgent legal needs, including children’s law and advocacy, elder law, domestic violence, disability law, housing emergencies, healthcare and consumer fraud.
In certain sectors of the population, such assistance is desperately needed.
Across the country, a large number of lower and middle class individuals and families are unable to afford the services of an attorney in civil cases.
It is estimated nationally that 1-in-5 Americans are eligible for free legal services because they are living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline level, which is $48,600 annual income for a family of four.
In the seven counties served by LSHV, that translates to more than 545,500 people.
When a crisis strikes and such people are faced with a legal issue, often they do not have the resources to secure legal advice and representation.
Last year, LSHV handled more than 14,000 cases impacting more than 32,500 household members.
“In more than 70 percent of civil cases today, people who can’t afford legal representation end up going to court alone – and many lose everything,” said Barbara Finkelstein, the group's CEO.
A variety of statistics support Finkelstein’s position.
As outlined in the study “Connecting Self-Representation to Civil Gideon” by Russell Engler, which highlights dozens of studies throughout the country, the success rates of those who represent themselves in legal cases are startlingly low.
In domestic violence cases, just 32 percent of women without a lawyer were able to secure an order of protection, compared to 83 percent of women with a lawyer.
Data from Social Security disability appeals, unemployment appeals, immigration appeals and other administrative appeals shows that the success rate is as much as 50 percent higher when a claimant is represented by an attorney from legal services.
In housing court, defendants with an attorney are twice as likely to win their cases as those without one.
In addition to helping those in need, statistics also indicate that LSHV's efforts have proven to be an economic boon for the area.
In total, the group's homelessness prevention program, domestic violence/family law, supplemental income, SSI/SSD and unemployment benefits work resulted in more than $15.6 million in Westchester taxpayer savings last year as a result of reduced expenditures on social services and other initiatives.